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Earl of Gloster. Here, take this purse, thou whom the
King Lear. Act iv. Scene 1.
Some moralists have taken great pains to enforce on their readers the distinction between beneficence and benevolence. They might have spared themselves a great portion of their trouble; as attention to the words them. selves establishes a pretty obvious difference; but, in respect to their labours, I have headed this part with two titles instead of one. Shakspere's lucubrations relate to benevolence in its active state.
Of its passive state the moralists alluded to have spoken not a little disparagingly, as if even doubting its existence: for (they argue)“ if benevolence exist at all, it will shew itself in deeds: and if it shew not itself in deeds, it is worthless : ” a mode of argument very specious, but leading to nothing. For one must have little experience in the things of this world, not to be aware that, as there are many cases where good is conferred without the slightest good will on the part of the donor; so the occur. rence of the converse is equally undeniable, viz. of particular cases where good will exists without the power or possibility of carrying it into action. Passive or active, still it may be there.
* The Earl means “my wretchedness making my gold valueless to me."
However, with the fear of such a stern system of ethics before them, let all well-disposed persons exert themselves to give as frequent and palpable proofs as possible that they possess the disposition, not forgetting that golden truth in the preceding extract:
“We are born to do benefits."
Yes! we are born to do benefits, and more than this, in Heaven's mercy, we are born to find our reward at once, in doing them! For, I may observe, that if there is one fact more than another, on which all mankind are agreed, it is, that there is no earthly happiness to compare with the consciousness of having spent a life in doing good.
Some Utilitarians * go so far as to deny altogether the existence of such a quality as benevolence, and maintain that self-love is at the bottom of all beneficent actions. Now, it may be granted, that if man always knew his own real interests, he might undoubtedly be beneficent for the sake of the mental satisfaction with which it has pleased God to accompany such a course; or even for the sake of some probable gains of a grosser nature in return;—but that man's beneficence must of necessity always proceed from such selfish motives alone, I take it upon myself, in the name of all human nature, most strenuously to deny. Unbappy must those Utilitarian gentlemen be, if they have not, at some moments in their lives, felt the delight attending the promptings of love and humanity towards their brethren of mankind! And if they are so miserable themselves as to be a sort of lusus nature, and deficient in this noble quality, let them not (after the manner of the fox without a tail in the fable) seek to deprive their fellow creatures of it!
* Vide“ Bentham's Deontology."
No! amongst the mazy labyrinths of opposing systems of mental and moral philosophy, let phrenology be singled out and thanked, for having at least rescued the human character from such a blot, as the cold utilitarian scheme would have soiled it with, and given it (in accordance indeed with what experience alone would have taught us) an active, independent organ of benevolence, born with its birth, and strengthening with its strength.
Iago. "Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens; to the which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce; set hyssop, and weed up thyme; supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many; either to have it steril with idleness, or manured with industry; why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions : but we have our reason, &c. &c.
Othello. Act i. Scene 3.
ITS CHANGE BY TIME.
Benedick. A man loves the meat in his youth, that he cannot endure in his age.
Much ado about Nothing. Act ii. Scene 3.
Iago's speech is one of consummate wisdom.—Though we cannot, it should be observed, command at our birth, the predominance of good qualities, yet our dispositions, good and bad, grow by cultivation, as surely as flowers and weeds, and did we but seize every opportunity of cultivating the former, and pruning and rooting out the latter, much might be done to render the character what it ought to be. There are few of us aware what a tremendous, what an awfully responsible power we have of forming our own character, even in spite of apparently untoward circumstances. It is the determination that is wanting, and until something is done in the way of moral education, which is but as yet in its infancy, the evil of this defect will still continue.
Shakspere's remark too, on the change of taste and judgment in man as time rolls on, is full of truth. In fact, every thing changes, human character, the earth, sea, stars, firmament, probably all beings however exalted, save the Deity himself.
Rosalind. nd your experience makes you sad! I had rather
have a fool to make me merry, than experience to make me sad,
As you like it. Act iv. Scene 1.
CONDUCIVE TO HEALTH AND LONG LIFE.
Katherine. He* made her melancholy, sad, and heavy, And so she died : had she been light, like you, Of such a merry, nimble, stirring spirit, She might have been a grandam ere she died ; And so may you: for a light heart lives long!
Love's Labour's lost. Act y Scene 2
* Referring here to Love.